A standing room only crowd packed into a barn at Martha Clara Vineyards Thursday morning to celebrate the life of Lyle Wells, the iconic and enterprising Riverhead farmer and family man who died last week in a farming accident.
The Rev. Anton DeWet of Aquebogue’s Old Steeple Community Church hailed Mr. Wells, 62, as a farmer from a historic North Fork family who felt privileged to live on and farm the same land his ancestors came to in the 17th century. Referring to Mr. Wells’ devotion to the land, the Rev. DeWet said, “It’s hard to explain the connection between your land and your feelings.”
He quoted Mr. Wells as saying, “Our blood runs with this dirt.”
“Thank God for the life of Lyle Wells,” he said.
Frank Beyrodt, a past president of the Long Island Farm Bureau, spoke eloquently and emotionally about a man he described as a loyal friend. He described his friend as a natural leader who, after working at the Long Island Horticultural Research Center on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, decided to farm the family land full-time.
“He tried everything to make money,” Mr. Beyrodt said. “Chickens, pigs, a dairy cow. He was a bus driver for the school district and a baker at Dunkin’ Donuts.”
He recounted how a fire destroyed a barn and equipment and Mr. Wells and his wife had to start all over again. Mr. Beyrodt told of how their children — Jessica, Matthew and Logan — worked on the farm from a young age, as their father wanted them to love the land, too. He said Matthew was 11 days old when his dad first sat him up on a tractor.
An emotional Joe Gergela, former director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said, simply, “Lyle was the best buddy anyone could ever have.”
Among the many who attended what was billed as a celebration and not a memorial was Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and county Legislator Al Krupski, whose family has farmed in Peconic for four generations.
“He personified the history of this place and the love of the land,” Mr. Krupki said.
After the celebration, Mr. Bellone said in an interview that he first met Mr. Wells in 2011, when he was running for county executive. “Joe and Frank set it up and we met at Lyle’s farm,” Mr. Bellone said. “He described me as an ‘up islander’ because I am from Babylon. It was the first time I heard that.
“I asked him, ‘How long have you been farming?’ He said, ‘Well, a long time.’ I was thinking of my grandparents. I am second generation in this country. So I said, ‘Fifty years?’ He said, ‘1661.’ I was knocked to the floor. They are on the same tract of land! Lyle, Frank and Joe gave me an education on how important this land is. They showed how special this place is and the need to protect it.”